The artist and engraver C.J. Grant was commissioned to produce prints attacking the Tory candidates standing for the constituency of Bury St Edmunds in the general elections of 1835 and 1837. Together these two prints possibly constitute the only surviving examples of a major metropolitan caricaturist commenting on provincial politics during this period. Of course, satirical prints had been published in relatively small numbers outside London since at least the mid-1700s, but these were produced by local artists and usually dealt with universal subjects – such as fashion, manners and occupations – that would appeal to people living beyond an immediate locale. Satires on local politics were simply too specific and the market for them too small to make the publication of such prints commercially viable. A handful of closely fought elections in the 1820s and 30s proved to the exception to this rule, with campaign funds being used to subsidise publishing costs and reduce the relevance of market forces. This was certainly the case here; the Radicals of Bury St Edmunds reached out to Grant to enlist his help in rendering their Tory opponents ridiculous and thus unelectable. [1]

The publication of both prints is credited to the members of “the Society for the Suppression of Conservative Vice”. No record of the Society survives and indeed the name may be a collective term for a looser conglomerate of Radical activists who subsidised the print’s production costs. Some of these individuals were no doubt the self-proclaimed “Lovers of Reform of Abuses” from which the publication line of the 1835 caricature informs us copies of the print could be purchased. The only individual named in the publication lines is that of Edward Birchinall (fl. 1838 – 1883), a printer and bookseller whose premises were located at 20 Churchgate Street, Bury St Edmunds. Nothing further is known of Edward but his father William Birchinall (1760 – 1827) preceded him in the trade and his name appears on earlier lists of provincial retailers selling copies of works by William Cobbett and Henry Hunt. [2] Edward therefore evidently inherited his father’s Radicalism as well as his business. Grant’s initials appear on both prints and the signature on the earlier of the two plates is followed by the word “London”, suggesting he did not leave the metropolis in order to carry out this commission. Grant must instead have been supplied with sketches or a written description of the individuals he was being asked to caricature by Birchinall or one of his Radical associates. Given the significant differences in the way some of the protagonists are depicted in the two plates, the latter seems more likely the former.   

We don’t know why the Radicals of Bury St Edmunds felt it necessary to go to the trouble and expense of hiring a caricaturist to attack their enemies? When seeking a rationale, one can only point to reports which state that the tone of political discourse within the town was – even by the standards of the day – considered to be particularly acrimonious. [3] The dispute centred around the relationship between the Radicals of the town and the small clique of Tories who dominated the Municipal Corporation. The Corporation was an unelected body responsible for administering civic government and setting and spending local taxes. It had been established by royal charter in the early 1600s and done little to modernist itself in the intervening two centuries. Membership was obtained at the invitation of setting council members and posts were held for life. This lack of accountability turned the Corporation into a cesspit of petty corruption, with civic funds being squandered on lavish dinners for councilmen and parish offices used as sinecures for their friends and family members. The Corporation also exploited its lawful right to appoint the town’s two Members of Parliament – a privilege that was not finally revoked until the introduction of the 1832 Reform Act – by selling the seats to the Earl of Jermyn and the Duke of Grafton. Unsurprisingly, this situation enraged the growing middle class of Bury St Edmunds, whose taxes funded this largesse and who began to gravitate towards the Radical movement during the course of the 1830s. [4]

The earlier of the two plates was published on 4th January 1835, just two days before the polls in Bury St Edmunds opened. The title 659 to 36!! Great Odds for the OAK Stake, refers to the shifting balance of power between the 36 unelected members of the Corporation and the 659 registered voters in the town. It also punningly refers to the Oakes family – a local banking dynasty who had dominated the Tory faction within Bury St Edmunds for generations – comparing the chances of a Tory victory to those of a longshot win at the Epsom Oaks horserace. Captain Orbell Oakes, a serving officer in the Royal Navy and aspiring Tory politician, pulls at a rope that has been tied to the scales and vainly attempts to correct the balance in the favour of wealth and privilege. The rotten oak tree in the background may be intended to represent his father, Orbell Oakes Snr, or grandfather, James Henry Oakes, both of whom were members of the Corporation. The eagle that hovers above the tree is likely a reference to Francis King Eagle, the Radical candidate for Bury St Edmunds. [5]  

A man crawls out of a giant cheese on the right and complains about receiving three votes in an unspecified poll of some kind. This may be an oblique reference to the election of a new parish guardian in the summer of 1834, in which one of the Tory nominees received only 3 votes out of over 400 that were available. [6] A corpulent man carrying the accoutrements of a pharmacist greets an emaciated undertaker in the corner of the plate below.  The pharmacist is Abraham Gall who was a longstanding and prominent Corporation member, while the undertaker may be Major-General Sir Charles Broke Vere. Broke Vere was standing for the Tories in the county constituency of East Suffolk (which included Bury St Edmunds). As his title suggests, he was an army officer rather than an undertaker, but Grant habitually depicted army officers in the derogatory guise of butchers or undertakers. Alderman Edward Mower appears to the left and is caricatured as a down-at-heel agricultural labourer in reference to his surname.

Three more figures are shown on the left of the plate. Richard Dalton is “Turn Again Dick” a two-faced figure brandishing papers bearing contradictory views on the need for political reform. Dalton was an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign to secure parliamentary reform during the early 1830s and had delivered a stirring speech on the subject at Stowmarket in 1830 which was still remembered years later (a copy of which he holds in his hand). However, once a suitably moderate version of reform was achieved in 1832, Dalton converted to Toryism and began arguing against extension of the franchise to include the working classes. [7] The corpulent figure to his left is John Boldero. He was a poultry farmer and liquor merchant who also sat on the Corporation and served as a magistrate. Several months after this print was published Boldero, Abraham Gall and another Alderman named John Deck were fined £5 in a civil lawsuit brought by a business rival who claimed that the Boldero had abused his powers in order to prevent him selling liquor at the county fair. [8] John Deck is depicted above Boldero. Deck owned the local auction house and is shown selling off the Corporation to the highest bidder, a reference to allegations of bribes being paid to several electoral officials by agents of Earl Jermyn. [9]

The second prints was published without a specific date or title, although it’s often catalogued as The Conservative Angel in reference to the label applied to the uppermost figure. Boldero once again appears on the extreme left of the design, this time being carried by John Deck whose likeness is notably different from that of the first plate. Robert Bevan, a banker and business partner of the Oakes family, dances to their right. Bevan sat on the Central Committee of the West Suffolk Conservative Association and held the office of Sheriff of Bury St Edmunds. A dissenter and a Radical in his youth, Bevan cast off his reforming principles in later life and was dubbed “Jumping Jim Crow” by his former associates. [10] Fredrick Nunn, another Conservative Association member and local sheep farmer appear to the right and is depicted as an ovine nun at prayer. [11] The members of the Bury St Edmunds Municipal Corporation are being plunged into an abyss above Nunn’s head. The Corporation had been abolished by Act of Parliament in August 1835 and replaced with an elected local council in which the Whigs and Radicals held a majority. Whig councilman George Creed stands at the side of the pit and watches his predecessors’ departure with glee. Creed was a surgeon who held the dubious distinction of having removed the skin from a notorious murderer following execution and used it to bind a copy of a pamphlet detailing the man’s crimes. [12]

William Atmer, the landlord of The Angel Inn, flies along the top edge of the image. Atmer benefited heartily from his connection with the Tories, receiving generous contracts to supply food and drink for civic functions and Conservative Association dinners. [13] The printer Henry Gardener and a local tailor named Mr Andrews are caught in the “Conservative Rat Trap” beneath him. The former was married to the latter’s daughter and both were active in the Conservative Association but the specific reasons for their appearance in the print are unknown. The title of the book in Gardener’s hands – “Bridgewater’s Treatise £50” – refers to the recent by-election for the nearby constituency of Bridgewater in which the Tories were alleged to have engaged in the widespread bribery of voters. [14]

The banker and Conservative Association member George Browne sits at the bottom of the plate. He holds a leg of mutton and eats a pair of boots. The mutton refers to a trivial spat between the Radicals and the Tories over the question of whose political club was the oldest. The Radicals dismissed Tory claims to precedence by arguing that the Conservative Association had started life as a mere dining club and mockingly referred to the Tories as “the Mutton Club” thereafter. [15] Patrick Macintyre was the Secretary of the Association at the time of the print’s publication. He appears to Nunn’s right and is depicted in a manner which is typical of anti-Scottish satires of the mid-eighteenth century. Heavily inebriated and dressed in tartan, Macintyre leans against a scratching post to relieve himself from the effects of an infestation of fleas. He drunkenly proposes a toast to the Duke of Argyll, which is possibly an inaccurate reference to John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute (1713 – 1793), who was both the first Scot and the first Tory to hold the office of Prime Minister following the Act of Union in 1707. Bute was a nephew of the 2nd Duke of Argyll but was not connected with the family politically. Indeed the Argylls had long been Whigs, with the 5th Duke holding a minor office in the Cabinet of Lord Melbourne. 

Abraham Gall snoozes in a chair in the far right corner of the image. Gall had been ousted from office when the Municipal Corporation was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1835 but had peevishly refused to hand over the official insignia and plate to the new town council until forced to do so be writ of court. He is shown dreaming of the hearty dinners he had enjoyed at the Corporation’s expense and these are represented by the gaggle of animals that surrounds him. [16]

The three vignettes that fill the upper right corner of the plate are the difficult to decipher. “Don Diego De Carle_os lie-ing in state” is presumably another attack on Major-General Sir Charles Broke Vere, who is now depicted as a Spanish conquistador and accused of lying to the electorate in some way. The fish emerging from “The Pond of Corruption” are two local Conservative activists whose surnames were Gudgeon and Haddock but the specific nature of their role in the election is unclear. Haddock owned a pawnbroker’s shop and it is presumably the door of his premises which the Whig and Tory candidates are shown entering with their election pledges hanging from their back pockets. [17]

I would welcome any further insight that readers may be able to offer on the characters and events depicted in either of these two prints.



  1. For example, the Alnwick election of 1826 and the Northumberland county elections of 1832 resulted in the publication of caricatures supporting both the Whig-Radical and Tory candidates.
  2. H. Hunt, Correspondence; consisting chiefly of Letters and Addresses on the subject of Radical Reform, (London, 1820), p. 48. Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register, vol. 57 no. 13, 25th March 1826, p. 25.
  3. An editorial in the Suffolk Chronicle, 9th July 1831, p. 4, lamented that “a spirit of the bitterest party feeling” prevailed throughout the county and this continued in the years following the introduction of the Reform Act. Charles Dickens, then a young reporter with The Morning Chronicle newspaper, visited Bury St Edmunds in January 1835 to cover the elections. The events he witnessed are thought to have given birth to the fictional town of Eatanswill which appears in the early chapters of The Pickwick Papers (1836). Eatanswill is a town riven by perpetual petty feuding between the supporters of ‘the Blues’ (Tories) and ‘the Buffs’ (Whigs).
  4. For general background on politics in the town see Proceedings at the Election of two Burgesses for the Borough of Bury St. Edmund’s, (Bury St Edmunds, 1835) and
  5. The Bury Radicals attacked Captain Oakes for drawing a salary from the Corporation while he was abroad serving with the Navy. See Bury and Norwich Post, 1st July 1835, p. 3.For commentary on the relative merits of Francis King Eagle and other members of the Oakes family, see Speech delivered at the nomination of candidates in Bury St Edmunds, (Bury St Edmunds, 1835) p. 6.
  6. Suffolk Chronicle, 30th August 1834, p. 4. The candidate’s name is given as “Mr Howe”.
  7. One Radical described Dalton as “A Gentleman whose political… opinions have assumed the colours of a harlequin’s vest, professing from Radical to Whig-Radical, and from Conservative to Ultra-Tory… The party who thrust him forward, must have been influenced by some sinister motives.” The Suffolk Chronicle, 27th June 1835, p.3.
  8. The plaintiff’s statement included sarcastic references to Boldero’s weight that caused laughter in the public gallery. The Suffolk Chronicle, 1st August 1835.
  9. The allegations of bribery on the part of the Tories continued to circulate for several months after the election. Bury & Norwick Post, 13th May 1835, p.2.
  10. Suffolk Chronicle, 29th April 1837, p. 4.
  11.  A list of the Association’s committee members can be found in Ibid, 22nd July 1837, p. 3.
  12.  The book, along with remnants of the condemned man’s scalp and ear survive to this day:
  13. For an account of a gathering of the West Suffolk Conservative Association’s committee at the Angel Inn, see Suffolk Chronicle, 22nd July 1837, p. 3.
  14. Notice of the wedding appeared in the Bury and Norwich Post, 23rd August 1837, p. 4. Allegations of Tory bribery in the Bridgewater by-election can be found in the Ipswich Journal, 27th May 1837, p.5.
  15. Bury and Norwich Post, 14th January 1835, p 4., Suffolk Chronicle, 17th June 1835, p4 and 27th May 1837, p. 3.
  16. “The old corporation was substantially in debt and the last Alderman, Abraham Gall, (1835-36) actually refused to hand over the insignia and plate to the new Council. Gall wanted to sell the assets to pay off the old corporation’s debts. Eventually a judgement was obtained to enforce this transfer.”
  17. Haddock’s name appears in the Suffolk Chronicle, 22nd April 1837, p. 3. The article also mentions that he accompanied F.G. Calthorpe, Early Jermyn’s Tory running mate, on his canvas of the town. R. Gudgeon helped to organise an illumination that the Bury Tories staged to celebrate the coronation of William IV in 1831. Bury and Norwich Post, 14th September 1831, p. 3.